Foods to eat together for optimal nutrition.

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A few months ago, I wrote an article on food combining, which involves eating only foods that “go well” together and not mixing food groups. I concluded that this way of eating was not backed by science and had no evidence to support its alleged benefits. 

However, there are some examples of foods to eat together or separately for optimal benefits. The different nutrients contained by each food item can have a synergistic relationship with each other and improve their nutritional properties

So here are some food pairings you need to try!

Foods to eat together

FoodS to eat together:

Iron and vitamin C

There are two types of iron in the diet: heme iron, which comes from meat, and non-heme iron, which comes from plants. 

While heme iron is well absorbed and not very affected by other foods it is eaten with, this is not the case for non-heme iron. The absorption of non-heme iron is greatly influenced by the foods you pair it with

For instance, vitamin C considerably improves the absorption of iron [1]. So don’t hesitate to pair your iron-rich foods with a good source of vitamin C. This could look like:

  • A spinach and berry smoothie
  • Kale with lemon juice
  • Dark chocolate and strawberries
  • Chickpeas and bell peppers
  • Lentils and tomatoes

PS: check out this article for more iron-rich foods !

chocolate covered strawberries

Lycopene and fat

Lycopene is a carotenoid that gives fruit their red/pink color. It has certain health benefits, such as decreasing cancer or cardiovascular disease risk [2]

Its bioavailability, meaning its ability to be absorbed and used by the body, is greatly affected by the foods it is eaten with. Since it is fat-soluble, consuming lycopene-rich foods with healthy fats significantly improves its effect. Here’s what this could look like:

  • Tomatoes with a drizzle of olive oil
  • Grapefruit and hazelnuts
  • Red bell peppers dipped in guacamole

This can also be extended to other carotenoids such as the ones found in carrots or kale and spinach: fat makes their absorption much easier!

Turmeric and black pepper

It’s no secret that turmeric is a star when it comes to nutrition. It has many health benefits thanks to its excellent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects [3]

The key compound in turmeric is curcumin, which sadly isn’t easily absorbed into the body [4]. Good news though— piperine, a compound found in black pepper, has been found to increase the absorption of curcumin in the body [5]

So when you add the golden spice to your meals, make sure to also sprinkle some black pepper in there!

Tomatoes and broccoli

As I mentioned previously, tomatoes are loaded with lycopene, a cancer-fighting compound. Broccoli is also great in the cancer-fighting department, thanks to its sulforaphane content among other things. 

But if you really want to boost these effects, you should be eating tomatoes and broccoli together. Indeed, a study showed that prostate tumors on rats grew much slower when they ate broccoli and tomatoes together instead of one or the other [6]

So make yourself a delicious tomato and broccoli soup or quiche, add them to pasta, roast them as a side…there are tons of options!

tomatoes and broccoli

Zinc and vitamin A

Vitamin A plays an important role in vision, immune function, cellular communication, and more. Zinc is a mineral required for the proper growth of the body. 

Eating them together can optimize their effects, as zinc is notably required to help transport and absorb vitamin A. So it’s a good idea to combine your vitamin A-rich foods with good sources of zinc [7]. Examples include:

  • Meat with carrots
  • Beans with sweet potatoes
  • Chickpeas with kale
  • Nuts alongside squash

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Carbs with protein

This is a more general combination, but an important one nonetheless. If you consume protein alongside carbs, it will slow down the absorption of glucose and prevent you from having huge blood sugar and insulin spikes [8]

This will also help you feel fuller and more satisfied for longer! There are a million different ways to combine carbohydrates with protein but here are a few examples to get you started:

  • Rice and beans
  • Noodles and tofu
  • Bananas with peanut butter
  • Potatoes and lentils



So there were the foods to eat together for optimal benefits. As for foods that shouldn’t be eaten together, the only combination I seriously discourage is tea and iron.

Iron is a mineral that has many important biological functions, such as transporting oxygen throughout your body, converting nutrients into energy, and helping neurotransmission. 

In order to maximise your iron intake, try not to drink tea while you consume iron-rich foods. Indeed, tea interferes with iron absorption and can lead to iron deficiency anemia when consumed in large quantities [9]

Make sure to wait at least one hour before drinking tea after having a source of iron, specifically non-heme iron [10]. Coffee can also inhibit iron absorption, though at a much lower extent [11]. Don’t hesitate to check out my article on the pros and cons of coffee!


beans and rice

Foods to eat together in conclusion

While food combination is a myth and shouldn’t have you worried over which foods not to associate, there are some foods to eat together for more benefits. 

The association of the different nutrients found in each food can boost the overall nutritional properties of your meal. Don’t hesitate to pin a list of the foods to eat together to your fridge for easy reference!


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